I faced the voice with trepidation, and discovered my fears were well founded. Before me was the being that gave admirals nightmares, the ghostly doom described in sea tales by those foolish enough to be irreverent of his power. He was the closest thing the seas had to an avatar.
He wore a tricorn hat and a frock coat fit for heavy seas, both black. The buttons and buckles of his outfit fairly shone green with the patina his saltwater home had created. Every article he wore spoke of worn sturdiness, and my reflexive analyze attempts yielded no other information than that I was far, far outside my class.
I’d heard him described every which way. Some said he was a skeletal being, a near invisible apparition or a conglomeration of sea monsters. I’d even heard it theorized that he was one of the isolated mer-people. I couldn’t say what his true guise was, but I saw him as a human. Not that I’d imagine for a moment that he was anything like the mortal species that I belonged to. His dark beard seemed to be unaware that it was submerged, and hung like any distinguished sea-captains’ would, only minorly affected by the water’s movements.
Davy Jones didn’t have his stats hidden, at least not the normal way. All his characteristics, attributes and traits were magically obscured. I’d bet there was an age-old hidden quest to discover those stats, but it wasn’t anything I’d attempt.
My gawking was interrupted by a rush of seawater burning my throat and filling my lungs. I gagged and choked – my air had run out! Pain tore at my throat and chest and blackness started to creep in from the fringes of my vision while my oxygen-starved brain screamed that I was failing at staying alive.
“None of that now,” Jones said, waving his hand. “We still have something to discuss!”
A hole in reality opened and before I could blink, I’d been sucked through, along with a thousand gallons of seawater. I landed amid a deluge but once it cut off I was able to sit up above the water, my bonds and weights lying beside me. My body retched as I tried to clear the saltwater from my lungs. A warm and fluid stirring built up in my chest, and the next thing I knew the water was being drawn from my lungs into a hovering sphere before me. The magic ended when my lungs were empty, and the sphere broke and plopped into the water around my knees. I gasped in the air thankfully.
I was in a cave, or what looked like a cave. Stalactites hung from the ceiling and stalagmites rose up to meet them. Both directions of the cave curved, like I was in a segment of a circle. Glowing green mosses hung on the rock and glowing blue algae lit the water, making the whole area ethereal.
“What is this place?” I couldn’t help but ask as I stood.
“Call it my back-coat pocket,” Jones said wryly, splashing in knee-deep water.
His back coat pocket? As opposed to his locker? Did the terror of the seas just make a pass at humor?
The entire system was flooded, so I had to suppose that the legends about Davy Jones being unable to step foot on land were accurate. He still managed to make himself look comfortable in what might have been a chair cut from the stone.
“There I was,” he began. “Trailing the Raven and my dear Lawless Jack, when I heard something I rarely hear! A man’s very soul harmonizing with the sea. I located this harmony trying to save someone who’d found his way to my locker.
“I kept tabs on it, intrigued. It’s a rarity for one to love the sea so unconditionally that she reciprocates at all, much less with a permanent perk. When I saw this rare thing about to be extinguished by Jack’s crew, I decided to have mercy. I called this soul to me before it faced its doom.” Jones’ eyes narrowed. “Imagine my surprise when that soul rejected my call, and instead bred havoc.”
I shuffled from foot to foot, recalling that moment on the Wind Runner when I’d felt that pull, just before I’d been given the captaincy. “Sorry about that.”
“For … well, ignoring you. I didn’t know it was you though!”
“If you’d ignored my call to chase a pretty maid, I’d have been upset. But causing havoc happens to be one of my mandates, an integral part of the rhythm of the sea. And it was enjoyable to see such chaos – even visited upon Jack.”
“Jack knows you?” I said, wondering if the pirate captain had planned for this visit.
“Only the way all experienced sailors come to know me. Nevertheless, he’s done well perpetrating chaos for me. I was interested in what he was doing, that brought me along the trail to you.”
“He was hired by Nilfheim to …”
“So I’ve gathered.” Jones interrupted. “He’ll be less interesting if he turns privateer, but I’ve no motive to hamper him.”
Right. This was the terror of the seas, not some captain of the port that I could lodge a complaint with. He didn’t care about the lives on the Wind Runner, he wouldn’t care about my life either if I hadn’t piqued his interest. He shared the seas’ impartiality in that regard.
“I hope the whole show impressed you.” I said.
“Why?” he asked again. I decided against trying to come up with something polite on the spot. Jones wasn’t playing by the rules of social conversation.
“Because I don’t know what you want with me … but I like my options better if you’re in a good mood.”
He laughed, so what I said wasn’t the worst option. I started to smile too, just so he wasn’t alone in his merriment, when he suddenly stood and waded to me.
“What motivates you?” He demanded quietly, in my face. “What is it you want?”
I swallowed heavily. I’d come up with a number of pat answers for questions like that over the years. My perk Heart at Sea had provided a convenient excuse: I’m satisfying the nature of who I am. Jones wasn’t looking for the pat answer, though. He wanted to understand me. Unlike previous captains or administrators who’d wanted to know the same thing, I got the impression that Jones wouldn’t hesitate to pin me to the ocean floor and dissect my mind to get a satisfying answer to his question.
“I love the sea. I want to see the wonder in the world.” I said. “I want to make other people see it, too.”
He looked me up and down, taking in my full measure. “Why haven’t you allocated your attribute points? You have enough saved that I wonder if you’ve ever spent them.”
“If I used attribute points to grow, I’d have to perform great feats to advance those attributes further. By developing my talents naturally as far as they’ll go, I can add attribute points later and gain much more strength.”
It was a theory I’d heard when I was a boy, and it had been proven often enough. The thing was the troubles of today demanded you advance your attributes and holding any in reserve was difficult. I knew people who said they kept a point or two in reserve, but I’d been saving since I made level 3. I knew now that it wouldn’t have worked if my Heart at Sea perk hadn’t been helping me develop those skills faster. When people talked about how I had better than average stats for my age, they didn’t even realize that I’d done it without the leveling bonuses. It had been a gamble – a gamble I’d nearly lost a few times – but it was impressive now.
“Why didn’t you allocate them before you accepted your death?” Jones demanded. Maybe my stack of points wasn’t impressive to him. “It was foolish to meet your death without playing every advantage you could take!”
“It would be foolish to thrash and scream against that which I couldn’t change.” I refuted. As soon as the words left my mouth my mind screamed at me: what was I doing? Don’t argue with the avatar of the sea!
Jones’ ire left immediately, and he chuckled. He chuckled! “Push and pull. The sea is in love with Callis and Uropa. Her tides tell her story. It takes all types; different halves of the same coin. She pulls in both those who refuse to surrender and those who submit.”
I wasn’t sure I wanted to be thought of as submissive. “You’ve seen for yourself that I’ll go down swinging as well.”
Jones shrugged. “You’ve an interesting nature. That makes it hard for me to pass judgement on you, so I’ll give you a choice. The first option: I return you to the bottom of the sea where I took you from. A few moments and you will be dead, your spirit free to join the waves of our mistress. The second option: I take you on to my crew. Your spirit will be bound to me, and you will serve me until I release you. I’ll warn you now, I have no cause to ever release you. I have hands aboard my vessel that have been mine for centuries. To them, the spirit is a terrible thing, and they wish for nothing more than oblivion! Which fate would you prefer? Will you submit to the sea? Or cling to the life you now have in your hands?”
I considered it briefly, but only to give it its due consideration. There were cautionary tales about binding yourself to anything beyond your allotted years, but I was a man only 23 years old. Whatever peace I’d ever thought I’d made with my fate; it wasn’t enough to make me surrender my life right now. “I choose to be one of your crew.”
Jones stepped closer, his hand hovering over my chest. “That be your true decision?”
“That is my decision.”
A fire bloomed in my chest, like a mage was cutting out my heart. I screamed as I heard and felt bones break and flesh tear apart. My insides were being turned out!
You have been Cursed! Your very spirit has been bound in servitude to Davy Jones! You must obey any orders that he impresses upon you. You may not undermine him or his mission in any way. Your mind and body have developed cursed effects that will change how you interact with the world and other sentients.
Your heart now belongs to Davy Jones!
As quickly as the pain had come, soothing healing replaced it. Only the memory of pain lingered, and the magic did not relieve that stress. My heart pounded furiously in my chest.
Only, my exposed heart was also pounding furiously in Jones’ outstretched hand!
I stared and nearly passed out as I understood what I was seeing. The beats matched each other perfectly. Davy Jones had ripped my heart out of my chest, and somehow – whether it be from a magical replacement or because I was now cursed – I was still alive. My ‘heart’ was still beating.
Jones cupped my heart in his hands and stared at it intently. “Oh,” he said softly, almost reverently. “Oh, what a song! It sings a melody much like my own did …” He met my eyes. “You’ve made level 10 and not chosen a profession, eh? Well I enjoy the song I hear from your heart. I offer you a boon!” He waved with one hand, the other still carefully holding my heart. A series of prompts appeared in my vision; choices that were being offered to me. “Choose quickly, and choose wisely.”
You have been offered the unique profession: Menagerie Master! You have an affinity for the beasts of the deep and can tame and rule them on behalf of your master.
You have been offered the unique profession: Berserker! The power of the deep is in your hands. You can summon such strength that people will swear only the ocean herself was capable of your feats. Note: this ability will end your life and release your spirit.
You have been offered the unique profession: Captain of the Deep! The seas are your domain in a way mortal captains can only dream of. Raise your ship, form your crew, and distinguish yourself as a servant of your master!
As soon as I read them, I knew what I would choose. My heart had yearned for something like this. Each offered something special. Most would choose Menagerie Master, since training beasts as pets and having them win your battles was a good way to glean XP without risking your own life. Added to that was the promise of mastering sea monsters – who wouldn’t want to sic a Hammernose on an enemy ship? Or better yet, summon a kraken!
I’d never dreamed of being a front-line fighter, but anyone with a healthy fear of having their spirit trapped forever would see the caveat to Berserker as a benefit. No doubt there were many spirits trapped on the Perdition who would do anything to have that kind of opportunity.
But what spoke to my soul was Captain of the Deep. It seemed to answer every desire I’d ever had. I’d be a sailor my whole life – or longer – and uniquely bound to the sea to boot. I made my choice.
Jones cocked his head and scrutinized me. Then he nodded. “Yes, that one will suit you. I’ll show them a wonder, to be sure!”
You have obtained the profession: Captain of the Deep!
New advancement options have been opened to you.
“If your heart had once thought that choosing that profession was a means of escaping me, I wouldn’t have granted you nearly the potential you now have. But it didn’t. I daresay your song is an echo of my own. You have the chance to grow into something legendary, boy, but the rest of the world will seek to stamp you out before you have the chance to obtain it.”
I bowed, because it seemed appropriate. This being had saved my life and given me the unique chance I hadn’t hoped to dream of. Calling him my master and surrendering my physical heart was a small price to pay for that. “What do you expect of me?”
“I will give you missions when I have need of you. You will grow quickly and learn to handle such enemies that array themselves against you. Your mandate is to cause chaos on the seas – our mistress is not a kingdom’s plaything to be tamed.”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
Notice: you have fundamentally changed who you are. Would you like to change your name as well?
Change my name? I’d never wanted any other name than the one I had. Maybe a surname so I’d have something to give people when they’d asked … wait a minute, there was a name I wanted to take, wasn’t there?
“Seaborn,” I said with a smile. “My name is Domenic Seaborn.”
“Let it be so,” Davy Jones intoned. With a wave of his hand a hole in reality appeared again, and this time I was ejected from Jones’ pocket dimension into the sea where he’d found me. For a moment, I panicked. I’d just gotten a glorious profession, and he threw me out to claw my way to the surface?
Then I realized that I didn’t have the drowning debuff. I didn’t have a counter for my remaining airtime. I’d already taken a breath to fill my lungs, and the seawater hadn’t hit my lungs like it was trying to tear them apart. My body had accepted it. My lungs were getting what they needed. Deliberately – with a voice in the back of my mind screaming that I was about to kill myself – I breathed the water. Then exhaled. Inhaled, exhaled. A wave of giddiness slammed into me. I was a Captain of the Deep under the command of Davy Jones himself! What did the boundary between air and sea matter to me? This was like having a potion of water breathing that never ran out!
My giddiness turned to awe as the Perdition sailed before me, its sails rippling with whatever magical force propelled it along its underwater course. My awe turned to stupefaction as I glimpsed the massive, many-limbed shadow trailing behind it.
That … that was a kraken! A kraken at a higher level than I’d ever heard of a beast attaining – no, a higher level than any sentient I’d ever heard of had claimed!
I’d like to think that I took all these changes in stride, that I examined all the new opportunities open to me and acknowledged the prompts that I could feel waiting in the corner of my mind. I wasn’t that strong or callous, though. The changes of the last ten minutes snowballed into the stress of the last few days, and I found myself sitting on the ocean floor staring up, letting my quiet tears add to the salt in the sea.